Ithaca officially became an abortion sanctuary city as a result of a Common Council amendment to the city’s municipal code on July 6. The council passed the amendment following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June.
The amendment prevents city employees from disclosing the health information of those who seek abortions in Ithaca with out-of-state law enforcement. If private information is revealed, the amendment explicitly grants citizens the right to sue the city.
Robert Cantelmo grad, alderperson of Ithaca’s 5th Ward and chair of Ithaca’s City Administration Committee, spearheaded the legislation.
“I tried to think of ways that we could step up as a community given the failings of the federal government,” Cantelmo said.
Cantelmo got the idea for the abortion sanctuary city from an existing article in the municipal code, that similarly prevents city employees from cooperating with immigration control organizations such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“With its unanimous passage, we are signaling that we have a very strong commitment to making sure this is upheld,” Cantelmo said about the unanimous vote from the Common Council.
The policy received support from local reproductive health organizations such as End Abortion Stigma and Planned Parenthood, according to Cantelmo.
“We need to provide these protections and signal to the community that we are a place that supports their values and their rights to bodily autonomy,” Cantelmo said.
Muna Mohammed ’24 believes that there shouldn’t be laws regulating reproductive rights and is in support of Ithaca’s new policy. Mohammed is originally from Georgia, a state that she considers liberal compared to neighboring states.
“I feel like I am more aware of [reproductive healthcare] coming from the south, but I believe that I might be less impacted coming from an urban area in Georgia compared to someone who might be from rural Kansas,” Mohammed said.
Jorge Defindini ’22, Common Council representative of Ithaca’s 4th Ward, has been a major supporter of the abortion sanctuary law. Defendini is also greatly concerned with the interests of Cornell students, both in- and out-of-state.
“You might just be here for four years or even less, but it’s still your home, and you have the right to decency and to a good living here,” Defindini said.
Defendini is confident that support for reproductive healthcare in Ithaca will continue, given the support the Council has already received.
“I haven’t received much pushback, and I’m really relieved for that,” Defendini said. “Even the Christian organizations that might be against it have been pretty quiet about it.”
Amelia Rajakumar ’24 called the policy groundbreaking, and said she hopes other cities will follow suit.
“The fact that women can come to Ithaca to receive reproductive healthcare without facing the outdated repercussions of abortions gives me a lot of hope for the future of this issue,” Rajakumar said.
However, Ithaca still faces some harmful reproductive healthcare practices, Cantelmo explained. The issue manifests in organizations called pregnancy crisis centers. The centers do not offer abortion services or referrals and instead market themselves as helpful reproductive health centers.
“They are anti-choice organizations that masquerade as a possible abortion provider,” Cantelmo said.
Veronica Pillar, a member of the Tompkins County Legislature, is focusing on this issue as well.
“I think the healthcare system right now can be pretty fragmented and difficult to navigate, to say nothing of the cost issues,” Pillar said.
Pillar is also in support of Ithaca’s amendment, and they passed a similar resolution affirming support of women’s rights in the Tompkins County Legislature. The majority of the County Legislature is in support of Ithaca’s new policy, according to Pillar.
Ithaca’s stance on reproductive rights is extensive. Still, Cantelmo said, the city has a long way to go.
“I think this is a strong first step, but still a first step,” Cantelmo said.